Author and speaker Susan Alexander Yates has discovered a deep passion for hiking in the wilderness with good friends. Over the last several years, she’s gone on five different long hikes, and each time, God has met her needs in powerful ways. Susan shares her experiences meeting God on the trail in this blog series, “Finding God in the Wilderness.”
My Fourth Big Hike: Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness
Recently my friend Melody and I completed our fourth big hike. So far we’ve done two on the Appalachian Trail and this was our second on the Pacific Crest Trail. (See links below.) This year we spent four days and three nights in the Goat Rocks Wilderness of Washington State.
We began at the Snowgrass Flats trailhead and hiked up about eight miles to set up camp in the Snowgrass Valley. It was a long slog carrying a 31-pound backpack! At least I didn’t do a face plant in the first 50 yards like I did on our first hike!!
We work hard to get our packs down to the bare minimum — taking only one change of clothes, long pj’s, packaged food (peanut butter and jelly rounder sandwiches: I will not eat a PB&J again for a long time!). We carry a small stove, water filter, sleeping bag, air mattress, tent, minimal toiletries, cell phone for pictures only (there is no service), a tiny Bible and journal. And of course bug spray — which we joke is our new perfume — sun screen, COVID masks, and hand sanitizer. We don’t have makeup, a brush, comb or mirror. And we looked awful!
Our heaviest weight is our water. We each carried a “bladder” (2 & 1/2 litters) and a water bottle. We laughed hysterically at all the bladder comments. “Susan is your bladder empty yet?” or “We need to stop at this creek and filter some water to fill our bladders.”
We hiked about 10 miles each day. But this year we got smart. Instead of packing up and moving our camp site each day we left it in one place, and carrying only water and lunch in our packs, did day hikes. This area has many diverse hikes so nearly everyone does this and it made a huge difference! (It’s not as easy to do this on the Appalachian Trail).
What do I love about these hikes?
1. The Beauty
We saw so much beauty it was hard to soak it all in. Stunning views of Mt. Ranier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Our tent faced Mount Adams so every morning we awoke to its majestic snow-covered presence right in front of us. Lupin, Bear grass, Indian paint, multiple different colored wildflowers, covered the valleys and filled our souls with awe.
2. The Silence
Being completely cut off from the cares of the world is SOUL therapy. The cacophony of voices, news, podcasts, messages, all cease. Instead silence and quiet abound. Responsibility ends. I jokingly said to Melody as we left civilization, “Now, we have to leave all our people and duties to God and our husbands. They’ll have to be in charge and handle everything.”
Although we know God is in charge, it’s much easier to live in this reality when we are cut off! Having the time to sit still for an hour just to soak in the quiet restores the soul.
3. The Community
“Aren’t you afraid?” others have asked us. Our answer is “no.” The hiking community is one of the most thoughtful ever. People look out for each other, offering suggestions and help. You don’t worry about your stuff. It’s safe. No one wants that extra weight! No one cares who you are, or what you do. There’s a deep sense of equality nurtured by a common love and challenge of the quest.
4. The Physical Challenge
Melody and I both love pushing our bodies beyond their limits. (Our husbands don’t get this!). I get so tired I don’t think I can take one more step. Sometimes I feel like I’ll throw up. Mostly I push on. I may count 100 steps, especially up the steep trails, or I may recite character traits of our almighty God, saying one for each letter of the alphabet to keep me going. It can get brutally hard. But in a weird way it’s cleansing.
5. The Simplicity
Because we are carrying only what’s necessary we are reminded that we don’t need much. (We count ounces when packing.) We can get along with so little and still be filled with joy. In fact it’s a relief not to have stuff to keep track of. I want to come home and get rid of half my stuff. Stuff is distracting and demanding.
6. The Perspective
More than anything the hike restores perspective. Being taken out of my everyday routine, removed from my responsibilities, and too tired to nurse my worries about people and the future, has a way of restoring peace and contentment.
Soaking in His creation reminds me of how BIG He is and how small I am. The mountain peaks shout of His power, while the delicate flowers remind me that He’s a God of detail. In my head He becomes bigger and I and my issues become smaller. I am made aware that I carry too much. I need to let Him be God.
Our Theme Verse
Each year we pick a theme verse for our hike. This year it was Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I also found myself in Psalm 19 every day as it seemed to describe what I was seeing.
Let the heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of his hands…”
SO What About You?
You may not be able to hike the great trails or get away for 4 days. But your soul can still be refreshed. Your perspective needs to be restored, especially at this time with the unique challenges we are facing in our families and in our world.
Pick a day in the next month and plan a getaway. Get a sitter for your kids.
Leave early and go out in nature for the whole day. Take only some food and water, a small journal and Bible. Before you begin, spend some time giving to God all of your concerns. It helps me to write each one down. Then leave them with Him. They are His burdens to carry today.
As you walk or sit don’t let these burdens enter into your mind. When they try (and they will), simply say, “I gave that to you Jesus.” And move on to simply praising Him for who He is and thanking Him for what you see around you. I find it helpful to speak to Him out loud.
My mother once said,
When we get to heaven I think God is going to ask, ‘Well, what did you think of my world? Did you enjoy it?’”
It delights Him when we enjoy His creation. When we do, our focus shifts from our stuff back to who He is. Our perspective is restored.
It’s His “nature therapy,” and He delights when we immerse ourselves in it.